Congratulations to Odungi Randa, the New Ker for the Luo Community

6 mins read

I first met Mzee Odungi Randa at Kamiti Medium Security prison in 1987 when we were both rounded up by Moi on his war against those who were fighting for multi-party democracy in Kenya. It was already bad news at Kamiti for all of us political prisoners, but I met Odungi Randa under even worse circumstances.

For a while at Kamiti, the political prisoners were mixed up with the regular prisoners. We knew each other and had our own system of communications, doing things with fellow activists out there working on all sorts of things. Then one day all political prisoners were rounded up together. We knew right away that something bad was about to happen.

We were then divided into groups of five each. Then each group was led to a prison cell and the doors locked tight. We were then told we were under permanent confinement and cannot leave our prison cells. We told them we need to get out of the prison cells to go outside and the prison boss told us to shut up.

So in my cell is where I met Odungi Randa as we introduced ourselves in the cell where we were spending 23.5 hours a day. The prison guards opened the door to throw food, mainly beans with a mix of stones, through the door and we had to swallow all that within minutes and give the plates back to the prison guards.

Then the prison boss ordered that we all be given Bibles to read in the prison cells. We threw the Bibles out of the door and that was not because we had any issues with the Bible or with God but because we did not want to be locked up 24 hours a day and told oh, you have the Bible you are fine.

That is when Odungi Randa in our cell told us to calm down.

He told us to keep the Bible and don’t get into fights with the prison guards because we have no idea why all of a sudden we were isolated from other prisoners and locked up in tiny cells. His idea was that something else was going on outside and we have to watch out before we react and invite more trouble on ourselves.

In any event, Odungi told us we have no idea what is happening with other political prisoners in the same prison who are also isolated.

In the same cell, was a good friend of mine from Nairobi University, Comrade Njuguna Mutahi who was studying to be a journalist and was very good at organizing meetings and discussions for the group, and that is when Odungi Randa became a living library for us.

It turned out Odungi Randa had been involved in Kenyan struggles even before independence and had worked very closely with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Odungi was also working hand in hand with him during the stormy years of President Kenyatta trying to crash Jaramogi.

That is how we got our act together and became great comrades although confined 24 hours a day. Njuguna Mutahi left the prison to become the Executive Director of People Against Torture (PAT) a very powerful human rights organization in Kenya. That was my home every time I was in Kenya.

They made great strides in the struggles for human rights and democracy in Kenya. Here is an artwork on Mothers of Political Prisoners at the PAT exhibition.

Njuguna Mutahi was also instrumental in helping political prisoners publish their full experience in the hands of the Moi torturers and prisons in a publication “We Lived To Tell” where we told our own stories and projected the way forward for the Kenyan struggle.

Here is the book.

Click to access 01828.pdf

In another cell in the same prison was Njuguna Mutahi’s more famous brother Wahome Mutahi who was also a political prisoner at the time. We made every effort to hear from him but the ring around us was very tight.

When I went back to Kenya in my first trip after 7 years in exile to meet my family, I was very happy to meet Odungi Randa in Kisumu and he treated me to a great meal and fruits. He bought me apples to take home. That is Odungi Randa for you. I can’t wait to meet him when I come home probably this December. Cheers big fella. You deserve the job.

Adongo Ogony is a Kenyan Human Rights Activist and  Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada

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